I belatedly came to know about the demise of K.S. Singh from a friend, and was taken aback. I had known that he was suffering from Parkinson's disease, but then I could not help wondering how I had missed the news, living as I do in an otherwise alive campus that follow news and events with sufficient keenness. With a guilty conscience I frantically flipped through the pages of old newspapers but not a trace could be discerned, except for a brief mention in the Times of India . This is a telling commentary not only on the media, its palpably consumerist orientation, and its disproportionate taste for intrigues, high drama, and ‘celebrities', but also on how we value our intellectuals. It also reveals the self-congratulatory, cloistered, and immune character of our academia. This immunity and academic slumber is sometimes challenged and broken by student activism and dissent which keep forging ties with the larger realities of India and the outside world. K. Suresh Singh definitely valued such a tradition. After all, one of his ideals was Sarat Chandra Roy—the father figure of Indian ethnography. It should be remembered that Roy was also an activist who fought for tribal land rights and not just a professional anthropologist confined to his discipline. It is this legacy of anthropology that Singh inherited. Anthropology for him was a way to reach out to the people.

Singh began his career as an officer in the Indian Administrative Service. The administration of those days had just come out of its colonial legacy as the ICS changed over to the IAS. To some extent, the ideals of the freedom struggle were still intact. The administration had not forgotten the brief to serve the people in the villages. At least Singh as a young officer thought it to be an instrument to reach the rural communities of India . It so happened that he was posted to Singbhum and Ranchi where he spent almost fifteen years, moving from one subdivision to the other. It was impossible for him not to be impressed by the scenic beauty of these tribal areas and to remain unmoved by tribal music. Tunes and melodies came first and then the words. With his growing engagement with the people of this area, his tribal studies began. Tribal poetry became his passion which lasted life-long, and it generated enough compassion in his mature years towards the problems faced by various tribes of the region. He was posted in Palamau in 1965 and worked in the year of the terrible famine of 1967. Probably he did the first intensive anthropological study of famine in that region as he was directly involved with the administration of famine relief. The interest in anthropology kept developing. He was a frequent visitor of S. C. Roy's private library at Ranchi where he devoured almost all of Roy 's works and private papers. Many a time, Singh in his mature years ruefully mentioned his inability to make use of those papers at the time that he read them. But it was through Roy 's papers that he was introduced to the vast anthropological world of Chota Nagpur.

Singh could no longer remain merely confined to folklore and poetry, but started preparing genealogical charts in order to trace the pattern of land inheritance and other forms of property. The administrator and the anthropologist were now converging. The background of history and fieldwork techniques sharpened his grasp and understanding of the social formation of this vast landscape. He learnt a number of tribal languages of this region to build up rapport with its people. He knew Mundari, Ho, Santhali, and Oraon – not only informally, but had also passed departmental examinations in Mundari and Oraon. He started collecting Mundari poems and compiled them in a book. It was from his engagement with rural and tribal development that his interest in anthropology grew. His administrative involvement triggered off the interest that gave him greater exposure to the social formations of the various communities in the region. His love for anthropology emerged out of his greater love for the people. Administrative duties were the via media to contribute towards tribal development.

We see the convergence of the intellectual legacy of S.C. Roy and the emotional engagement of Verrier Elwin with the tribes blended in the right proportion in K. Suresh Singh. On the one hand, Roy 's activism in defense of the land rights of the tribal people inspired Singh, on the other Elwin's book The Philosophy of Love deeply moved him. One should also remember that the Anthropological Survey of India had come into existence with Elwin and B.S. Guha's efforts. Much later, Singh inherited this legacy also and redefined the identity of the institution through his colossal People of Indi a project—the magnum opus of ethnographic study in India . But before I come to the startling conclusions of this profiling of the entire human surface of India, it should be remembered that if today Jharkhand has a unique identity and existence of its own, Singh's retrieval of the shadowy Birsa Munda went a long way in that identity formation. Without much theoretical hue and cry, Singh was able to portray Birsa, his times, and the larger tribal predicament in a very lucid fashion. It is not incidental that Mahasweta Devi regards Singh's book on Birsa Munda as an inspiration. Her own celebrated novel Aranyer Adhikar is based on Singh's book. It is a true specimen of subaltern historiography much before this term entered academic discourse. Singh's engagement with Birsa Munda was not just intellectual; he organized Birsa melas at Chalkad in 1961 and 62. Not content with these activities, he went on unearthing the rich legacy of Mundari oral tradition. He was involved with the collection and interpretation of tribal folklore, particularly Munda lore. He translated and interpreted the mini Munda epic Soso Bonga and interpreted a great deal of folklore relating to the adaptation of epic traditions. This phase of Singh's contribution ended with the publication of two volumes on Ram Katha and the Mahabharat in folk and tribal tradition.

As Singh's anthropological commitment acquired a holistic view of humankind and nature, he began to push the horizon of his inquiries. In the People of India project we see Singh at his best. Twenty-six departments of anthropology, various tribal research institutes, the Anthropological Survey of India, and thousands of students collaborated with each other in this mega project. Starting in 1985, the objective of the project was to generate a brief, descriptive anthropological profile of all communities in India , and analyze the impact of the development process on them and the interlinkages between these processes and the various communities. This project, unlike similar exercises during the colonial period, covered the entire country, bringing within its ambit parts of the country that had not been ethnographically surveyed earlier or, had been done in a perfunctory manner. Large information gaps about very many communities of India were sought to be bridged. This project identified, located, and briefly described 4,384 communities including scheduled tribes (426), scheduled castes (443), backward classes (1,051), and other communities. The study revealed the strength and continuity of regional identities which had deep roots in history in terms of morphological and genetic characteristics of population, language and literature, material culture, food habits, rituals, folklore, local forms of religion, and fairs and festivals. These regional identities are primarily secular. There are many communities in India of varying size who have faith in two or more religions. The communities no matter how ranked they are share the regional space and ethos. We have different ethnic groups in relationships of rivalry, competition, and conflict in the context of access to resources such as education and jobs. The contribution of this project and the insights they provide prepare us not only for the acceptance but also the celebration of diversity—the acceptance of the various ‘othernesses' within India . Unlike the earlier generation traumatized by Partition, it was through this new portrayal and profiling that the present generation acquired the strength not to fear diversity. Diversity was not to be construed as the binary opposite of unity because the raw kinetics of intimate interlinkages manifested itself in innumerable ways; it was not only compatible and creative, it was the very basis of the existence of the ‘idea of India ' with its myriad contradictions and people's struggles. In this context, Singh reminds us that there are few communities in India that do not consider themselves migrants. Every community has nostalgic memories of migration, imbued as they are in their folklore and history, be it because of famine, war, political upheavals, natural catastrophes, or crude economic necessities. These immigrants accepted the regional ethos and were instrumental in promoting the development of regional languages and literature and in building up regional economies. Caste and jati may appear today rigid in their political role, but they have been dynamic entities historically changing continuously in terms of their own self-perception and their role and relationship with others. There are a few lessons for the burgeoning middle classes to derive from Singh's profiling—why there are so many kinds of aspirations in India and why it is necessary to have the moral and political resilience to reconcile with these many rising aspirations.

K. Suresh Singh is no more but India needs many more like him. As he reinvented Birsa Munda, I wish the others could do the same for Tilka Manjhi, or Sidhu and Kanho.

Dhrub Kumar Singh